Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chamorro Language is "Sort of Disappearing"

Chamorro is 'sort of disappearing'
By Oyaol Ngirairikl
Pacific Daily News
September 21, 2010

About one of every two Chamorro people on Guam can understand Chamorro "very well."

However, only one in four can speak it "very well." These are just some of the results of a six-month survey of the Chamorro language on Guam revealed during a press conference last night at the Barrigada Mayor's Office.

The Chamorro Language Assessment Survey talked to more than 6,500 Chamorro people living throughout the island. It was conducted by local Chamorro culture group Pa'a Taotao Tano', which means "way of life of the people of the land" in Chamorro. The survey was conducted using a $98,000 grant awarded in October 2009 by the Administration for Native Americans, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.

Nicole Calvo, the survey's project director under Pa'a Taotao Tano', said she wasn't surprised by the results.

"The survey shows that while a lot of people still do speak Chamorro, that it's the manamko', or the elders, who actually use the language more often, and that for our younger population, or the younger you go, the less people speak or understand," Calvo said. "I think it's kind of sad when you think of how our language, which is in my opinion the core of any culture, is sort of disappearing."

Despite the somber results, Calvo said there is hope that the language can and will survive.

"We have Chamorro culture and history being taught in public and even some private schools," she said. "But we also have programs like Hurao (Culture Camp) that does a really good job in teaching children the language, the culture and the values of the Chamorro people."

Calvo said the survey results are being sent to Guam DOE, University of Guam, Guam Community College, the Mayors' Council of Guam and various local, nonprofit cultural organizations.

"Pa'a Taotao Tano's mission is to preserve, promote and perpetuate the Chamorro culture through song, dance and chants," she said. "We're not a language education program and we're not going to start classes, but my hope is that through this survey, educational groups on island will be able to strengthen their programs in a way that helps the youth of our island a real chance at getting to know their culture."

Calvo said she's proud of how well "the Chamorro language and culture has survived over 4,000 years of colonization and oppression."

"We're still here after all this time," she said. "And, hopefully, our efforts at Pa'a Taotao Tano', when added to the efforts of other groups and individuals, will help perpetuate our language and culture so that years from now, even with the military buildup, our people can still stand proud of their culture and heritage."

The group tapped UOG professor Ron McNinch to help build the questions and evaluate the survey results.

The survey included 10 questions that asked how well Chamorros spoke, understood, read and wrote Chamorro, as well as where they hear or use the language most often.

McNinch said the 6,542 survey participants represent a little more than 10 percent of the island's Chamorro population.

"Home (and) family is what the data tells us is the key to preserving the Chamorro language," McNinch said. "What we know is that the Chamorro language is being used a lot, that's what the study verifies."

McNinch later said the determination and commitment of Pa'a Taotao Tano' to ensuring the language and the culture are strengthened is admirable.

Rose Aquiningoc, a member of Pa'a Taotao Tano' since 1999, said the group has helped her improve her knowledge of Chamorro culture, but also her comprehension of the Chamorro language.

"Since joining the group, I'm better able to understand Chamorro and I can speak a little bit more than before," she said. "I'm not surprised that the results came back with so few people speaking the language -- because I'm one of them -- but I think the project also shows that people care and people want to make sure that the language is carried on to future generations."

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